A decent performance against Penn State, followed by a rough outing against the Gophs. Let’s take a look.
- First, in terms of injuries, Jacob Robinson missed both games. We are creeping closer to the redshirt decision I mentioned a few weeks ago. Elsewhere, T.D. Roof also missed both games at WLB. In his stead, true freshman Micah McFadden was the No. 2 WLB behind Raekwon Jones, and he actually saw quite a bit of action, especially late against Minnesota after Jones went down with an injury. Speaking of in-game injuries against Minnesota, Marcelino Ball went down with an injury to what appeared to be his head or neck (or possibly shoulder?) in the 2nd quarter. Cam Jones played the rest of the way at Husky. It sounds like Roof and Ball may be healthy enough to return this week against Maryland.
- One player that did return from injury against Minnesota, albeit briefly, was true freshman safety Devon Matthews. He may have re-aggravated his injury, however, because he did not play at all in the 2nd half after playing in 3 of IU’s first 4 defensive series.
- Although no one has mentioned it, and I never saw anything to indicate an injury, it’s possible Jonathan Crawford suffered an injury during the Minnesota. I say that because he did not participate in IU’s final seven defensive possessions (i.e. most of the 2nd half). Redshirt freshman Juwan Burgess manned the field safety position instead. Of course, it’s also possible that Crawford was simply pulled for ineffectiveness, which would be sad for a senior whose had a great career at IU, but also plausible given his performance.
- Aside from these various injury issues, the defensive staff has more or less settled into a steady and predictable rotation. It will be interesting to see how that changes in these next three games. Coach Allen mentioned on Monday that with the new redshirt rule, he would like to get several true freshman on the field on defense, including DEs Jonathan King and Madison Norris, LB James Miller and CB Noah Pierre.
- It appears the defensive staff has come up with a personnel adjustment to try and help with pass coverage. In pure passing situations – usually 3rd and long – against Penn State and Minnesota, IU subbed out a linebacker in favor of a 3rd cornerback. Depending on how you classify the husky, that puts IU in a nickel or dime personnel. That may sound that a fairly standard personnel change, but I don’t recall Allen doing this at all in his first two seasons in Bloomington. In addition, IU’s lone linebacker in that set was Micah McFadden. With a defense that struggles against slot receivers, putting in an extra corner to cover the slot is not a bad idea. If anything, IU should probably consider using this personnel more often. Just not against run-heavy Maryland.
The pass rush these past two weeks wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t good either. Probably in recognition of the secondary’s coverage issues, Coach Allen has reduced his blitzing, and when he has called for blitzes, he’s kept them fairly bland.
Against Minnesota, IU generated pressure on Tanner Morgan’s first three dropbacks. 100% pressure rate! Unfortunately, the Hoosier defense went on to generate just three more pressures in Morgan’s final 23 dropbacks. A 13% pressure rate is less than ideal.
Hey, this coverage chart doesn’t look too bad! Oh, what’s that you say? The wind was howling? And Penn State receivers dropped more than 10% of Trace McSorley’s passes? Details.
Back to the new normal for the IU secondary!1 As the passing breakdown below shows, Minnesota attacked IU with in-breaking routes, many of which were RPOs, and IU’s safeties in particular had no answers. Senior Jonathan Crawford struggled again, giving up 17 yards-per-target, and the TD that came against a zone involved his missed tackle. After a forced fumble and a pick-six in IU’s first few defensive possessions of 2018, Crawford’s last season as a Hoosier has largely been a disappointment.
On the bright side, redshirt freshman Bryant Fitzgerald seems to be becoming the best true playmaker in IU’s secondary. He now has interceptions in two consecutive games and three in IU’s last four games. He also forced a fumble against Minnesota. I expect him to see plenty of playing time against Maryland this week because he is probably IU’s best safety against the run.
Rush Defense and Tackling
IU struggled stopping the run between the tackles against Minnesota and Penn State. In total, IU gave up 6.2 yards per carry on 47 between-the-tackles carries the past two weeks. If IU has any chance of winning two of its last games and earning a bowl berth, that average needs to come down at least 2 yards per carry against three good running teams in Maryland, Michigan and Purdue. Yikes.
That said, IU was fairly stout on runs outside the tackles. Against Minnesota and Penn State, the Hoosiers allowed just 3.0 YPC on 13 outside runs. For the season, IU has been mostly strong against outside runs, with the lone exception of a long, back-breaking jet sweep TD against Michigan State. Well, Matt Canada’s Maryland offense may run more jet sweeps than any team in the country. If IU can limit Maryland’s outside runs and contain Maryland’s home-run hitting backs – Ty Johnson and Anthony McFarland – when they run between the tackles, Maryland will have trouble consistently moving the ball. If the Hoosiers can’t pull that off, look out.